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Oahu restrictions and risk levels add to COVID-19 confusion

New rules this week to limit the spread of COVID-19 on Oahu by generally restricting gatherings to no more than five people are adding to confusion about how people should behave — especially with the state at condition “yellow,” meaning “minor disruption.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki, co-chairman of the House’s special COVID-19 committee, said the state’s five-color risk level assessments do not help people understand what they should and should not do to help curb the spread of COVID-19, particularly on Oahu.

Asked if the public even understands the differences between the state’s blue, green, yellow, orange and red designations, Saiki said simply: “No.”

To view the state’s latest “impact level,” visit recoverynavigator.hawaii.gov/reopening-status/.

In May, Saiki’s House COVID-19 committee provided the foundation for the color-coded system to the state’s economic recovery “navigator” Alan Oshima, who is volunteering his time, according to his representative.

But, Saiki said, the result is that “people for the most part are not clear. It just adds to the confusion because it’s not managed properly. There should be a simple web site that whenever you log on will give you the color code for the day and give you the restrictions for that color. It should be changed whenever it needs to be.”

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, incident commander of Hawaii’s COVID-19 response, told the state Senate’s COVID-19 committee on Wednesday that the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is working on a “new product” but did not give details or a timeline for when it will be revealed.

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the committee, told Hara on Wednesday that the color-coded system “seems piecemeal.”

State Sen. Sharon Moriwaki (D, Kakaako-McCully- Waikiki) said that clearer information will help people “know what they can do or not do. People are still asking questions: What does that mean? It seems arbitrary.”

As of Thursday, the state’s impact level website said people on each of the neighbor islands should simply “Act With Care.”

Only people on Oahu were instructed to “Act Now/No Social Gatherings.”

But Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s “Act Now Honolulu — No Social Gatherings” order on Tuesday does not prohibit all social gatherings.

Caldwell’s order can be found at www.honolulu.gov/rep/site/may/may_docs/Emergency_Order_No._2020-24.pdf.

It means no indoor or outdoor gatherings — in public, private and at home — of more than five people for 28 days starting Wednesday.

And there are exceptions, such as restaurant “group dining” limits of five people; “in-person spiritual services,” which have no attendance limits; and funerals and burials that can have as many as 10 people.

“It’s not consistent,” said state Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley), who emailed highlights of Caldwell’s order to his constituents. “The message is not clear. It’s piecemeal.”

Especially for religious services, Ward said that “there’s a real lack of clarity. (The order) doesn’t say churches are shut down. It doesn’t say you can’t gather in (religious) groups no larger than five. There’s a real lack of clarity.”

Ward called the state’s color-coded COVID-19 risk assessment out of touch with the informational needs of the average island resident during a pandemic that has all but shuttered Hawaii’s economy.

He referred to it as “inside baseball — a pointy headed version for guys that sit around in an office. For the guy on the street, it’s ‘Huh?’”

As for limiting gatherings to five people in a home, Ward called it unenforceable and impractical for large island families.

“An ohana is not going to Zoom in grandma from the bedroom,” Ward said.

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